Note: I've been working on a mind map of the ideal mobile application for healthcare providers. Ideal of course being a subject measure. Part of ideal in my mind is not duplicating what already exists. For intense, UMMC has a wonderful medical encyclopedia and the iTriage app is a popular symptom checker. But what is missing? This is part of a series of posts that will explore this mind map as it develops. Specifically, this post will focus on the right side of the image below.

You know the Staples easy button? It looks something like a cartoonish giant red button that, when pressed, is supposed to solve all of your office supply problems. Well, where is our easy button in healthcare? I mean, within the laws of physics, can we at least have a way to do what other industries have been taking for granted for a decade? Even in 1999, I could use a computer and find a flight to Reykjavík, Iceland. Fast forward to today and the Open Table application. OpenTable.com is a great restaurant reservation site, and their mobile app takes things a step further. Using your phone's GPS, it is able to show you which restaurants near you have, well, open tables in the near future. Who hasn't had the "where do you want to eat tonight?" fight…er…lovely conversation?

So if I can book a flight to Iceland and find the first available restaurant table near my hotel, all with my iPhone, why can't I do the same for a doctor's appointment? As another in my series of "someone please build this", I'm asking: Someone please build an easy button for healthcare.

When you, or someone you care about is unwell, it is all about access.

We in the healthcare community often balk at the idea of consumerism in healthcare. Patients are people, consumers are shoppers. People need high touch, along with physical and emotional care. However, we can take a few lessons from the retail side of the world. In retail, it is all about "conversion", getting people to go from browsing to buying. One of the easiest ways to do that is to remove barriers. Don't make it hard for people to purchase what they want (thank you Amazon Prime). In healthcare we call this "access"; how do we make it easy for patients to use health services.  When you have a sick child, picking up the phone and being told the next appointment is two days away is not access. The same applies to new patients looking for a doctor. (The average wait to see a dermatologist in the US is between six months to a year!)

For a while, I have been pondering what I call the "virtualization of urgent care". Urgent care, at least in this example, is defined as important but not emergency: waking up with a bad cold or sinus infection, a rash is worse than yesterday, a sick child. In those cases, the normal course of action is to call the doctor's office, and if you are lucky you might get an appointment in the next few days. By that time you might be well, or you might decide to go somewhere else, like a doc-in-a-box walk in urgent care center, or the emergency room.

Enter the healthcare easy button. Whip out your mobile phone, launch an application and press the button. The GPS fires up and determines your location and the nearest open appointments. You pick the one that best suits your needs and press "reserve". It is that easy. When you arrive, all the paper work is done and you simply check in.

Those well versed in the healthcare IT world have already started punching holes in this plan. How will you ever retrieve open appointment data? How will you get a new patient scheduled? What are the security and privacy risks? Truthfully, those were valid concerns….a decade ago. To be blunt, there is no excuse for the lack of consumer technological advancement in healthcare. (Getting nerdy in 3…2…1) There are health information standards like HL7 that allow for the creation of and update of patient visit records in the A segments with additional information in customizable Z segments. Bottom line, it can be built easier than one might think.

From a business prospective, this is a model that probably makes more sense for integrated health systems with wide offerings of primary and urgent care. However, savvy communities might also realize that independent physicians could bond together in a sort of co-op, offering to accept each other's patients in an urgent care scenario. Every walked into a restaurant with no tables and have the host suggest someplace else down the street?

As my mind map above suggests, there are a lot of other features that can make for a rich mobile experience. I'm looking forward to exploring some of those ideas in future posts. Almost all of them have something in common: looking at the retail and consumer experience and applying to the healthcare model. That doesn't mean we have to lose anything about the patient experience. On the contrary, I would suggest that helping people find access to care is a form of emotional support and am improvement in the patient experience. So, someone please build us a healthcare easy button!